Monday, November 05, 2012

US Embassy Adopts Hungarian Ways

Years ago when I went to the Király thermals, I used to laugh at the system they had. Once in the door, you bought a ticket. You then walked five feet where another woman is sitting at a table with more tickets spread before her like she is going to read your fortune. She would reach for your freshly purchased entry slip and with a look of boredom that could make Medusa envious, she ripped it in half.
If you had any delusions you were now ready for the waters, you were mistaken. She handed over yet another ticket, but if you looked uninitiated, she would point you in the direction of the stairs. 

At the top of the stairs, if you were lucky enough to enter without waiting for a locker to free up, an attendant would take your ticket, hand you a towel and tell you to wait in place. Coming around the corner, there would be yet another attendant who came to escort you to a freed up locker and hand you your key. Much has changed at the thermals over the years.

Today, Ron and I had to go to the US Embassy to get our new passports. I hate having to do this so soon; ours do not expire until May 2013. However, we are going to Ecuador over the holidays and Ecuador requires that your passport be good for up to six months when leaving the country. The math did not jive.

Admittedly, US Citizen Services did answer my e-mails speedily. They have all the forms needed online and they can be filled in online also. When you print them, they were ready to go. There is also an appointment program online making it quick and easy. We had gone to the 'authorized' photographer for our required 2x2 inch photos. Our entire Hungarian photo needs have been taken care of at photo booths in the metro stations at significantly less cost. Two days before, they sent me a reminder of the appointment, all the directions were reiterated, and we were ready to go.

I was so nervous about being late and then rejected for our appointment, we were 20 minutes early. The process is more extensive now that security has been beefed up worldwide. When we finally entered, we were the only ones there. No one was waiting. We had an appointment, but still had to take a number to wait, and wait, and wait. I could see employees standing around talking, looking rather casual with coffee cups in hand. Why are we waiting when we are the only ones needing assistance? Is this a punishment for being early?
Ten minutes later our number was called. We turned in our paperwork. The woman seemed impressed and pleased we were completely prepared. She was indeed very professional, even if we had to wait. Once she did her part of this passport process; I wanted to hand over the $220 for our two passports and be out of there. That was not about to happen.

“Now hold on to your number and we will call you again to window 7, where you can pay the cashier” she directed. Window 7 had the blinds down. No one was home. It was now past 8:30 so why wasn’t anyone working. Did they go to refill their coffee cup? Are they checking Facebook? What is more important than collecting our US dollars? Still by this time, there was only one other person in the entire waiting area. He looked like he was ready for the long haul of waiting. Finally, he was called to a different window from any we had been to, so he much not be an American.

Number 502 appears on the board directing us to window 7. The blinds go up and there is a young blonde man there. “Hello, are you paying in cash? It will be $110 American or…” I did not give him a chance to finish as I held the wad of greenbacks to display them through the glass and his vision. “I am paying for two people” I remind him and turn over $220. He disappears for a minute, returns and tells me to hold on to my number. They will call me again to the other window to pick up the old passports and the receipt for today’s payment.

Why couldn’t the original woman do all of this? They certainly are not interested in moving people out very quickly with this system. It would behoove them for security reasons to keep the less number of people in the building as possible. If for some reason the woman cannot take the cash, the cashier should be there at the ready to collect the money, hand over the passports and the receipt.

In one week, one of us has to return to collect the new books, where they will fill the old ones full of holes making them sad looking.
With the new books in hand, we will have to return to the Hungarian Immigration Office to have our Residency stickers transferred to the new books. Another chore I am not looking forward to doing.

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